Dear Ellie: I’m a woman, 46, who is by nature a pessimist, but I have been trying to become an optimist. I’ve tried meds, talk therapy, exercise, being in nature, journalling, developing hobbies (crafts), forgiveness, gratitude, mindfulness, being more social, practising altruism, and meditation.
While I still often feel pessimistic or sad, I do see a remarkable difference in my health and outlook from making myself do these endeavours. I feel grateful to you, Ellie, because I believe I got many or maybe all of the items on this list from your column. They take time and effort, but are worthwhile and do help.
Can you recommend any books I can read about optimism? And any advice about “Letting Go” of negative experiences (some of them sexual) and knowing that just because I’ve attracted negative partners in the past, it doesn’t mean I’ve set a pattern, and have to choose poorly in the future.
I’m trying to have an optimistic outlook for my own health, not because I’m ready for dating, not yet.
You’ve done impressive and very necessary work to improve your outlook and mental/physical health all on your own! Wherever you’ve picked up insights and tried something new, you’ve felt the benefits from your own determination.
While nasty dating and past relationship issues sometimes cry out for professional counselling, you’ve had some therapy but also developed a fresh reality view: You did nothing to deserve negative sexual experiences.
I’m grateful to you in return for proving that people can change some long-held behaviours and improve their own lives.
About books: This is a journey to savor. A single online search will reveal dozens of optimism-related books. A classic in this field: Learned Optimism, How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman, PhD: on developing the cognitive skills necessary for transcending pessimism, which Seligman argues is fully escapable.
Always Looking: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, by Michael J. Fox, because he turned challenges from Parkinson’s in the midst of his successful film/TV career, into opportunities. (Sure, money and fame help, but it’s attitude that matters here).
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, published in 1943, a children’s book with philosophy for grown-ups, is considered among the most hopeful reflections on human existence ever penned. It still reflects hope and optimism in its fanciful story.
Martin Seligman’s more recent book in our ever-changing world: Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.
Reader’s Commentary: “A personal journey regarding dating, relationships and my personal standards that would decide my future:
“I always had lots of male attention and a small number of long-term relationships though I never lived with anyone. From early on, I knew I’d never accept anyone who was abusive, addicted, a skirt chaser, a workaholic or a mama’s boy. I lived by a high standard and respected those I was involved with.
“I turned down six different marriage proposals after I reviewed their habits and analyzed whether I could live with them every day for the rest of my life.
“I couldn’t. I married at 37 and didn’t settle. We’re 21 years together, with a family, and neither of us would change a thing.
“The wait was worth it. I loved and respected myself enough to say that being alone wasn’t the worst that could happen. I accepted his proposal because I couldn’t imagine my life without him.”
Happy at 58
Feedback regarding the attitude of the woman, 26, about divorce (December 17):
Reader: “I don’t believe it’s such a bad thing for couples to decide that the relationship just isn’t working anymore.
“In our enlightened society, why do we expect every marriage to be a lifelong union? If a couple’s married for 10-plus years, have children, then decide to split, share custody, have a civil/respectful co-parenting relationship, and the kids are alright, can’t this still be considered a successful union?
“Does a marriage have to be “forever” to be considered a success? As for abusive marriages, ending those should be celebrated.
“The 26-year-old so jaded by divorce rates should wait to find the right person. And if that doesn’t happen, make a fulfilling life for herself. If she finds the right person, fantastic.
“Just don’t see divorce as a terrible tragedy to be feared. Marriage is worth a shot.”
Ellie’s tip of the day
It IS possible to overcome the pain and pessimism from negative past life experiences, by seeking, learning, and practising purposeful optimism.
Send relationship questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.